The UFC returns after a month-long absence for it’s first card of 2023, and there has already been drama.
Originally slated to be a middleweight main event between Nassourdine Imavov and Kelvin Gastelum, before Gastelum fell out with a mouth injury during fight week.
He’s now replaced by Sean Strickland, who steps in after his main event defeat to Jared Cannonier in the final card of 2022.
During that even we went 9/13 with five perfect picks to end the year at #UFCVegas66, moving us to 804/1251 (64.27%) with 331 perfect picks (41.17%). You can see our full pick history here.
We’ll look to improve on that here and after starting with the early prelims of the night, we move on to the prelims section now.
Allan Nascimento (19-6) vs Carlos Hernandez (8-1) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Another flyweight scrap in this one between two relatively experienced guys. Nascimento is 1-1 in the UFC, dropping a split decision to Tagir Ulanbekov before beating Jake Hadley most recently in May 2022. Hernandez on the other hand is on an eight-fight win streak, with a split decision over Victor Altamirano in his UFC debut back in February 2022 in his last fight.
Nascimento is the flyweight version of his countryman Charles Oliveira, that’s the best way to describe him. A stunning jiu-jitsu expert, his striking and wrestling have now caught up to an elite level and he is a genuine problem for the flyweight division. Hernandez is also a well-rounded fighter, with good power and solid scrambles, but his tendency to retreat in straight lines is an issue he must rectify.
Despite his qualities, Nascimento must stay patient in this bout. Expect him to strike early and mix in his wrestling skills control the fight, and then midway through the rounds land a nasty strike to drop Hernandez before pouncing on the neck for his first UFC finish.
PICK – Allan Nascimento via Submission, Round 2
Javid Basharat (13-0) vs Mateus Mendonca (10-0) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
Banger at bantamweight between two undefeated prospects at 135-pounds. Basharat has impressed in the UFC with decision wins over Trevin Jones and Tony Gravely so far, while Mendonca makes his promotional debut after a 48 second KO in on the Contender Series back in September.
Basharat is a really slick operator with good grappling, but it’s his excellent striking and movement that stand out when he’s in the cage. Mendonca alternatively is like a bull who has seen red, constantly stepping forward and looking to take his opponent’s head off the whole time. That aggression could go either way, either leaving him looking silly or being the exact reason he gets the win.
But Basharat will comfortably be the best fighter that Mendonca has fought, and his style is designed to avoid getting his head knocked off it’s shoulders. With his experience and ability to mix up in grappling too, he should have too much for the hot prospect in this one.
PICK – Javid Basharat via Decision
Mateusz Rebecki (16-1) vs Nick Fiore (6-0) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
Some interesting matchmaking in this one in the lightweight division. Rebecki is on a 13-fight win streak with 11 finishes in that run, including a submission against Rodrigo Lidio on the Contender Series in his most recent outing. Fiore on the other hand is undefeated with six finishes from six wins, including four submissions.
Rebecki is a powerhouse in the stand-up department of the cage, but he’s also got excellent wrestling and some ADCC level grappling too, making him a true threat no matter where this ends up. Fiore is a grappler first and foremost with tantalising jiu-jitsu, but his striking is improving with each outing. The problem he has here is that Rebecki is better than him everywhere.
The Poland native has all the tools to claim a big win here, and add the fact that Fiore is stepping in on just two weeks’ notice, this one is unlikely to last too long. Rebecki gets it done, and quickly.
PICK – Mateusz Rebecki via Knockout, Round 1
Claudio Ribeiro (10-2) vs Abdul Razak Alhassan (11-5) – (Middleweight/185bs)
Very fun middleweight scrap up next as the feature prelim of the event. Ribeiro is on a six-fight win streak with five of those coming as a first-round knockout, including his win over Ivan Valenzuela on the Contender Series most recently. Alhassan has lost four of his last five, with his only win coming in 17 seconds against Alessio Di Chirico. His last bout ended in a split decision loss to Joaquin Buckley.
Both men are absolute powerhouses with scary knockout power, but they’re at different ends of their career seemingly. Ribeiro tends to put his back to the fence and let fly, while Alhassan likes to back his opponent up against the fence and let fly with huge showers of strikes. That’s a recipe for disaster for Ribeiro, but he will be confident of finding Alhassan’s chin.
If the opening minutes don’t end in a KO, then Alhassan will know he can use his judo to slow things down if necessary. Despite that though, it will end early. The question is who lands the kill shot. For me, Ribeiro has a slight speed advantage but he’s never fought someone as scary as “Judo Thunder”. Alhassan’s blitzes will see more than one of his shots land in a row, and that’ll put Ribeiro’s lights out.
PICK – Abdul Razak Alhassan via Knockout, Round 1